It must be November. You can tell by the stump speeches. You can hear them in Ann Arbor. You can hear them in Gainesville. You can hear them in Los Angeles.
You can even hear them in Louisville and Boise — if you can separate them from the corresponding laughter.
If this were an election, Ohio State would represent the popular incumbent while everyone else was vying for the other party's nomination.
Here's what we know. If Southern California wins Saturday against UCLA, the Trojans will play the Buckeyes Jan. 8 in Glendale at a stadium that doesn't even bear the city's name.
Here's what we don't know.
Is that the matchup of the nation's two best teams?
We'll never know.
No great revelation there. Since college football began awarding a national championship without a playoff, there has been disagreement over who deserved to play for it and who got jobbed (which is, incidentally, part of the name of another arena in Glendale).
There are plenty of teams with one loss who think they have an argument.
In reality, there are only three who should be talking — and Boise State and Louisville are not two of them.
The undefeated Broncos didn't beat a ranked team all year and they play in the WAC. It's punishment enough that we'll have to endure their presence in the Fiesta Bowl. Louisville lost to one of three ranked teams it faced and beat a Miami team that shouldn't have been ranked. The Cardinals also play in the Big East, which is barely a BCS conference despite all the early-season hype announcing its resurgence.
So here they are. The three contenders. Michigan, Florida and USC.
THE CASE FOR MICHIGAN
The Wolverines announced their candidacy Sept. 16 when they throttled Notre Dame under the watchful eye of Touchdown Jesus, 47-21. That road win is equalled only by USC's 50-14 whipping of then-unheralded Arkansas. Michigan bolstered its resume by beating Wisconsin the following week, handing the Badgers their only loss of the season. Wisconsin is currently ranked No. 6.
Michigan's only crime this season was an impressive 3-point loss at top-ranked Ohio State late in the season. If the Wolverines had lost that game early in the year they might still be talking about a rematch. If you don't believe that, think back to when Texas lost to Ohio State. Most pundits thought if Texas ran the table the Longhorns could be in Glendale. Translation: An early-season loss means less than a late-season loss, which is ridiculous.
THE CASE AGAINST MICHIGAN
Beyond Ohio State and Wisconsin, the Big Ten was awful this season. Normally strong programs in Iowa and Penn State faltered and the bottom of the conference — Illinois, Michigan State and Northwestern — was atrocious.
The Wolverines played a trio of weak nonconference opponents (Vanderbilt, Western Michigan and Ball State), barely beating Ball State. They were also hurt by the unlikeliest of opponents, an open date Nov. 25 that kept them out of the national spotlight while USC was wowing the memory-challenged pundits with its win over Notre Dame.
THE CASE FOR FLORIDA
If the Gators win the SEC title game against No. 8 Arkansas they will have run through what is notoriously the toughest conference in the nation, top-to-bottom, with just one loss — a 27-17 heartbreaker at current No. 12 Auburn — while beating three teams (Tennessee, LSU and the Razorbacks) currently ranked in the top 20.
When the season began, Florida's brutal schedule was the talk of the college world. In a five-week stretch the Gators had to play Tennessee, Kentucky, Alabama, LSU and Auburn.
THE CASE AGAINST FLORIDA
The Gators eked past weaklings South Carolina and Vanderbilt in unimpressive fashion. They were also hurt by a close win over surprisingly downtrodden Florida State — a late-season win that normally would have bolstered their credentials.
Nonconference foes Southern Mississippi and Central Florida did nothing to enhance Florida's candidacy.
THE CASE FOR USC
The Trojans played the toughest nonconference schedule of the three contenders, beating three teams — Arkansas, Nebraska and Notre Dame — that are all ranked in the top 20. Not only did the Trojans beat those foes, they crushed them, winning by 38, 18 and 20 points, respectively.
The Trojans also took care of Pac-10 heavyweights California and Oregon in convincing fashion.
THE CASE AGAINST USC
The Pac-10 was decidedly mediocre this season with five teams likely tying for fourth place with 4-5 conference records. The Trojans' 33-31 loss at Oregon State is easily the worst loss of the three contenders since the Beavers are not ranked. USC was also unimpressive in wins over Washington State, Washington and Arizona State.
So who deserves to be in Glendale? Who knows?
But this much is certain. Anybody's better than the current tenant.